Mrs. Aisha Dahir-Umar, AG D-G, Pencom

…Probe panel indicted as NLC, others allege cover-up

Beside the allegation of corruption leveled against the DG, she is also being accused of illegal recruitments and appointments, and outrageous increment of management remuneration by over 300 percent. Since the removal of Mrs. Chinelo Anohu- Amazu as the DG by President Buhari in April 2017, appointing her replacement has been dogged by crisis. Buhari had nominated Mallam Dikko Aliyu AbdulRahman as her successor, contrary to the enabling law establishing the organization which says that any board member removed before the expiration of his/her tenure would only be replaced by a person from his/her geo-political zone of the country.

It was expected that Mrs. Anohu-Amazu should have been replaced by somebody from the south east. So while acting as president when Buhari was away on medical tourism, Vice president Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, appointed Mr Funso Doherty, initially named as chairman to replace Dikko and moved Dikko as chairman of Bank of Industry. Dikko was alleged to be the managing director of a pension fund administrator which contravened the PENCOM Act and     had used his new position to bail out ASO Savings with N1 billion without board approval.

However, on his return, Buhari sacked Mr. Doherty and replaced him with Umar. So in three years, PENCOM has had three DGs. But the President Buhari has failed to forward the names to the senate for confirmation fearing a rejection of the nominees because of the apparent illegality in the appointment of the DG.

Again, while the original allegations and probe was on the activities of the current administration at PENCOM since 2017, the new probe under Oke is between 2014 and 2017 and does not include the current.

The corruption allegations against the DG came to light when the House of Reps opened a probe after receiving petitions on the issue. But the probe panel that was subsequently set has itself been enmeshed in corruption and cover-up scandals which have overshadowed the main subject of the investigation.

At plenary, a member of the House, Mr Benjamin Wayo, had moved a motion on the alleged violation of the PENCOM Act and the illegal appointment and misuse of public funds, which was unanimously adopted by the lawmakers. Moving the motion, Wayo said 19 months after the constitution of the PENCOM board by the President Muhammadu Buhari, the list of the nominees had not been sent to the Senate for confirmation.

The lawmaker alleged that the current acting DG had increased the number of directors in PENCOM from 10 to 17 and jacked up collective benefits and entitlements by 300 per cent illegally. The lawmaker said the Net Assets Value of the contributory pension fund as of October 28, 2018 stood at N8.779tn, with the number of contributors also grown to 8.90 million.

“The acting Director-General, Mrs Dahir Umar, has unilaterally, without any backing of the law, increased her terminal benefits and that of other senior staff of the commission by an outrageous 300 per cent and has also jacked up the number of PenCom general managers from 10 to 17, clearly in breach of the extant laws governing the institution of PenCom.”

Recall that barely a month and a half ago, the Chairman of an ad hoc committee investigating Pencom, Hon. Johnson Agbonayinma excused himself after Pencom wrote House leadership demanding his withdrawal. In a petition dated 14th May, 2019 and addressed to the House of Representatives joint committee on procurement and Pensions, the chairman, Board of Trustees of the NGO, Tolu Babaleye, said it has been following reports regarding some weighty allegations by insider whistle blowers in PenCom.

Babaleye after a session at the probe and while speaking with reporters wondered why the sudden discontinuation of the ad hoc committee investigation led by Hon. Johnson Agbonayinma, insisting that there was attempt by PENCOM to suppress the allegations and scuttle the probe. Hon. Wole Oke, who is chairman of Procurement Committee was fingered as the hatchet man in the House working for PENCOM.

However, in what observers said was a baffling outcome, Oke was named as the new chairman of the PENCOM probe panel. But in a new twist of fate, a petition from a group under the aegis of Dynamic Patriotic Citizens Foundation, a non-governmental organization was sent to the Speaker requesting that Hon. Wole Oke, be removed from heading the probe.

The group wanted to know why Wole Oke (PDP, Osun) who Agbonayinma accused of conniving with PenCom DG to scandalise his name is now heading the investigation, particularly against allegations of his interest in the probe. Before his resignation from the probe panel Agbonayinma had indicted Oke while briefing the press, saying that Oke brought the PenCom DG to his office asking what it would take for him to drop the investigation.

But the NGO in the petition is making fresh allegations regarding conflict of interest involving Babaleye. It said Oke is a contractor with the apex pension regulator as he owns a company, Debra K. Limited which allegedly is a contractor with the Commission.

Oke, however, debunked the allegation as efforts to divert attention from the subject of his investigation which is purely on procurement matters in PenCom from 2014 to 2017.According to him he neither has any personal relationship with the organisation or any company doing any business with PenCom.

He said “The said company Debra K. that they said I have interest is a company based in Nkpor in Anambra state with the shareholders all based there.” I’m not from there and I don’t know any of these people except that our search on CAC website showed us their details”.

Expressing concern over the issues in PENCOM, the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Ayuba Wabba, called for the reconstitution of the National Pension Commission Board to save the future of workers’ benefits. Wabba said at the investigative hearing into the activities of PENCOM from April 2017 to date and the alleged violation of PENCOM reform Act.

He explained that the law did not envisage at any point that a board would not be in place. “That is why if you look at the Act when referring to the commission it says the commission shall be made up of a chairman, the director general, four commissioners and the management staff.  “Nowhere in the Act is it envisaged that the board will remain dissolved for a long time and it will not be constituted.

“Apart from the chairman and the director general, the other four members are supposed to represent institutions, including the pensioners themselves and the trade unions,” he said.

Mr. Dahiru Mojeed, a stakeholder said that the inability of DG Umar to come clean of the allegations and her stone-walling attitude to the issue is inexplicable and apparently intended to drag the matter until the House dissolves in June.

“When the acting DG of PenCom, Dahir-Umar appeared before the committee, she stated under oath that her organisation maintains only one account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), a claim that was contradicted through communication [marked BKS/CSO/GEN/NASS/02/094] from the CBN to the committee, indicating that PenCom maintains eight accounts with it.

“PenCom has not been able to provide satisfactory answers to the enquiry about the missing N33 billion pension funds. So far, PenCom has failed to provide documentary evidence about the purpose of the withdrawal of this humongous amount of pensioner’s money and the beneficiaries. Curiously, CBN has also withheld the operational number of the account from which the controversial N33 billion was withdrawn from, which indicates possible complicity in high places”.

With a pension liability of over N2 trillion in 2000 following the collapse of the Nigerian Provident Fund and the NSITF, which replaced it, because of corruption,  the Olusegun Obasanjo administration carried out a fundamental overhaul of the system to meet up with its core responsibilities to Nigeria’s retirees. This effort became institutionalised in the Pension Reform Act of 2004, which introduced the innovation of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) and the establishment of the National Pension Commission (PenCom) as the pension fund manager through pension fund custodians (PFCs) and pension fund administrators (PFAs).

To consolidate on the success of reforms in pension fund management, the Goodluck Jonathan administration deepened reforms in the sector, culminating in the Pension Reform (Amendment) Act 2014, which created the Pension Transition Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) to address pension issues relating to retirees under the old scheme and properly define the tenure of its management, as well as that of the board of PenCom.

Whereas, section 21[1][a]-[g] clearly spells out how an erring member of the executive management committee of PenCom can be removed from office, the sack of the Anohu-Amazu-led management didn’t follow the laid down procedure.

Apart from the flagrant disregard of the rule of law in this instance, a grave injustice was also done the South East geo-political zone, where Anozu-Amazu hails from, when the president Appointed Aisha Dahir-Umar from the North East as Anohu-Amazu’s replacement as acting DG, in direct contravention of section 21[2] of the PRA 2014, which states that, “In the event of a vacancy, the President shall appoint a replacement from the geo-political zone of the immediate past member to complete the remaining tenure.”

The free-for-all reign of corruption and maladministration now plaguing PenCom is further enabled by the failure of the Buhari administration to appoint suitable persons into the four vacant positions of commissioners in charge of the administrative, technical, inspectorate, as well as finance and investment sections, in line with section 31 of PRA 2014. Similarly, the governing board of PenCom remains vacant as the president has failed to appoint suitable persons representing relevant stakeholders in line with section 31[2] of the PRA 2014.

When contact, an official of PENCom refused to speak on the issue but directed the newspaper to send a questionnaire to them which was obliged.  She said, “we have our procedure, send the questions and we will follow the laid down process”. When we asked her full name she promptly hung up. The questionnaire read: “Please, can you explain your side of the corruption allegations being leveled against your organisation and the probe in the House of Reps, which has become controversial; as well as the accusation of a cover-up by Pencom”.

 

 

 

 

 

, because we are sentenced to it.